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Crime Doesn't Pay in 'Sunset'

By Jen Chaney
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 12, 2004; Page WE41

IN MOST HEIST movies, the conniving central characters plot. And scheme. Then conspire.

In "After the Sunset," a purported heist flick that sucks all the style out of stealing, the protagonists talk. And talk. Then talk some more, to the point that you, the audience member, are ready to step into the film, concoct your own plan, nab the expensive diamond and use your newly acquired riches to head straight to the Bahamas so you can tell the main characters to shut up already and get down to business.


Woody Harrelson, left, as an FBI agent and Pierce Brosnan, playing a retired thief, don't have enough star power to keep "After the Sunset" from sinking. (Glen Wilson -- New Line)

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The Paradise Island setting in "Sunset," directed by Brett Ratner of "Rush Hour" fame, may be the movie's most attractive asset. After gazing at the turquoise sea that laps right up to the back door of Pierce Brosnan's beachfront home, the first thing most moviegoers will want to do is check airline fares to Nassau.

But before booking that trip, at least read "Sunset's" plot description. Brosnan plays Max Burdett, a stereotypical crafty crook who, along with partner-in-crime-and-romance Lola (Salma Hayek), has stolen a couple of valuable and sparkly diamonds. Having pulled off one final heist at the expense of bungling FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson), Max and Lola retire to a sweet villa in the Bahamas, where they plan to spend the rest of their lives soaking up sun, slurping on lobster and knocking back whiskey. But Max seems bored. He's itching to thieve. At which point Stan just happens to show up and inform him that a cruise ship called the Seven Seas, which coincidentally is exhibiting the only Napoleon diamond that Max and Lola haven't pinched, will soon be docking nearby. Stan, eager to catch the couple in the act, says he plans to keep his eye on them, which raises a few pivotal plot-related questions. Will Max come out of retirement, against the lovely Lola's wishes, and try to snake the jewel? Will Stan finally ensnare this unbeatable burglar and savor the taste of delicious vengeance? And, perhaps most importantly, will Remington Steele finally get his groove back?

"After the Sunset" fizzles so quickly that it's hard to care about the answers to any of the cliched mysteries it attempts to solve. Virtually all the stars, even supporting players Naomie Harris and Don Cheadle (soon to be seen in another heist picture, "Ocean's Twelve"), look like they're sleepwalking through this less-than-credible story. Brosnan does his best to smolder and Hayek flashes her cleavage every chance she gets, but it's not enough to turn the lackluster action into anything vaguely smart or sexy.

The main problem, aside from the aimless screenplay, is the Stan-and-Max dynamic. The movie's promising opening sequence sets up a clearly adversarial relationship between the dark and handsome Irishman and the blond and goofy American that, according to the production notes, leads to "a riveting game of cat and mouse." But once in the Bahamas, Stan and Max act more like mismatched buddies, à la "Rush Hour's" Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, than genuine opponents. Though Harrelson, appearing in his first starring role since 1999's forgettable "Play It to the Bone," tries to squeeze all the comic pulp he can from this connection, his scenes with Brosnan lack juice. Without a genuine sense of intrigue between its protagonist and antagonist, the movie can do nothing but flounder.

Naturally, "After the Sunset" tries to tie all of its plot strands together with a neat-o twist ending, one you just know is coming when Stan tells Max early in the film that he hates twist endings. But instead of punctuating the Caribbean antics with a finally-it-all-makes-sense moment, the conclusion comes across as a last-ditch attempt at crime-caper cool.

Please. You want a riveting game of cat and mouse? I've got three words for you: Tom and Jerry.

AFTER THE SUNSET (PG-13, 93 minutes) -- Contains sexuality, violence and language. Area theaters.


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